Each year Mercy Ships Canada says bon voyage to over a hundred volunteers from across the country as they depart for the Africa Mercy. Volunteers pay their own way and give their time to help make the mission of Mercy Ships possible. We are in awe of their dedication, their generosity, and their enormous hearts.
Volunteering with Mercy Ships often means leaving a job behind, family, friends, a life, and becoming part of a brand new intimate community made up of over 30 nationalities. Volunteers are often-times thrown into fast-paced jobs where they’ve got to be on their toes, all while being introduced to a completely new culture with language barriers.
Although there are challenges, never does it stop our volunteers from helping individuals become active members of their communities again, allowing them to work, to go to school, to regain respect, to fill them with hope and most importantly live a happier and healthier life.
Missions are not always about serving on the frontlines. At the Mercy Ships Canada office, we have six volunteers who come in every week to help with various tasks (they’re a shy bunch so we apologize for not having a photo!)
Susanne – Card writer
Frankie – Bookkeeper
Margaret – Mailings
Cindy – Speaker’s Network
Pen – Chaplain
Denise – Card Writer
These volunteers save time and funds, some have a connection to Mercy Ships and some had never heard of us, but the mission speaks to their heart.
“I know I can count on them, they are a huge blessing” – Jane McIntosh, Mercy Ships Canada Donor Relations
There are countless other connectors in Canada who help make the work of Mercy Ships possible! This National Volunteer Week, we want to say THANK YOU, to each and every volunteer in Canada and internationally. You are changing lives, you are giving hope to a world that needs it.
Monique enjoyed attending school with her friends before she started struggling to read and write. Her grandmother, Melone, believed she was misbehaving and not paying attention in class. “I would look at her school book and it was all just scribbles!” said Melone. “I thought she was pretending. I would tell her off and she would be in trouble.”
The shy little girl she never once disclosed that the world around her was fading, leaving her teachers and family to believe she simply wasn’t trying. After a while, Melone felt there was more behind her granddaughter’s behavior. One day, she dropped her keys on the floor and asked Monique to pick them up. As she fumbled around, feeling her way across the floor, Melone realized Monique’s sight was not all it seemed.
Despite looking forward to her retirement after more than 40 years of teaching, Melone homeschooled Monique to ensure she didn’t fall too far behind. “I would not accept that my own granddaughter would not have an education — her best chance at a future.”
Any money Melone managed to save was put aside for the chance to give her young granddaughter surgery. “I promised myself that no matter what it took, I would get enough money together because I wanted so badly for her to have a future,” Melone said.
After three and a half years of saving, Melone managed to save up enough for a deposit for a surgery that would leave her in severe debt. But, before she had a chance to arrange the procedure, Mercy Ships sailed into Cameroon, and hope filled her heart.
After a visit to the screening site, Monique was accepted for surgery and made her way to the Africa Mercy for a 20-minute operation that changed her life. The morning after her surgery, her eye patches were slowly lifted as the room held its breath in anticipation. Suddenly, life filled her eyes as she scoured the room looking at all the things she’d missed over the past three years, including her beloved grandmother.
“I see everything!” Monique cried, “I see it all!” Her bright-eyed gaze quickly darted in every direction as if she couldn’t take it all in fast enough, pointing at everything. Melone looked on with a smile, tears filling her own eyes.
A little over two weeks later, Monique packed her backpack and proudly donned her uniform ready for her first day back at school. Eagerly waiting to be escorted, she ushered her grandmother out of the door. “If she was any more excited, she’d lift up and start flying,” laughed Melone.
As they approached the classroom, they were greeted by the same teacher who recalled three years earlier when Monique was asked to leave school. “I remember when she left — it was a sad day. I am so pleased to see her back, because it is my wish as a teacher to see her get a good education.”
The gift of sight restored Monique’s brave personality, and thanks to her grandmother’s homeschooling, she boldly approached the front of the class to read and write in front of her peers. She had not given up the fight.
“Some people say with sympathy, ‘Look at those poor blind people’,” said volunteer Ophthalmic Surgeon Dr. Glenn Strauss. “But, I’ve never met people as courageous as those who are blind. Like Monique, they make their way up our gangway with the hope of being healed.”
Some may have seen Monique as a victim — a little girl who had lost her sight and almost her education. But Mercy Ships saw the fearless little girl inside her, and gave her a chance to see and be seen.
“Every time I thought about Monique’s blindness it saddened me, because I love her so dearly,” said Melone. “Since she has had the surgery, everything is possible. She has been given the gift of hope, which is a huge blessing to our lives.”
Written by: Georgia Ainsworth
Photos by: Shawn Thompson and Saul Loubassa Bighonda
Edited by: Karis Johnson
The massive facial tumor she’d carried for over five years threatened to starve or slowly suffocate her. An early death was inevitable for Kaltoumi if there was no immediate medical intervention, according to volunteer surgeon and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Parker.
“When we say 5 billion people don’t have access to timely, affordable, safe surgery, Kaltoumi is the poster child for this,” said Dr. Parker. “Because of lack of access to the care she needed, a 12-year-old girl ended up with a massive tumor threatening her life.”
No little girl should have to stop going to school, see other children running away in fear at the sight of her, or face the inevitability of a slow death before her thirteenth birthday.
But, Kaltoumi had experienced these realities since she was only 7 years old.
She was withdrawn and quiet, but her gaze told the depth of her story when words failed. She seemed to carry the world’s weight on her thin shoulders. Only one of her eyes was visible past the tumor that stretched across the left half of her face.
After the Cameroonian government intervened and flew her to the port where the Africa Mercy was docked, the severity of Kaltoumi’s case was painfully evident to the medical team onboard.
Soon after her arrival, the surgical team, led by Dr. Parker, began working with tireless precision to remove the tumor. The day after her surgery, Kaltoumi saw her new face in the mirror, and the transformation was immediately apparent. But the sting of five years of rejection doesn’t fade overnight, and her emotional healing took time and patience.
“‘A man becomes a creature of his uniform,’” Dr. Parker said, reflecting on a Napoleon Bonaparte quote. “The ‘uniform’ that’s put on someone like Kaltoumi, as this tumor relentlessly enlarges, is that you’re cursed. You’re not a worthy member of this human race. When that uniform changes, dramatic things can happen … Who you are, which has been lost for all these years, starts to bubble back up again.”
Slowly, like the sun peeking out from behind the clouds, Kaltoumi’s personality began to emerge. Smiles and giggles replaced blank stares. During her time on the ship, she played with nurses in the wards and blew bubbles outside on deck.
Even after the initial surgery, her road to recovery was a long one. She returned to the Africa Mercy several months later for a routine follow-up procedure to tighten her skin where the tumor once was.
Crew rallied around Kaltoumi, showering her with affection and friendship. Volunteers like Carys Parker, one of the chaplains onboard, bonded with the 12-year-old like she was her own little sister.
“When I first met her, she was reserved and tentative to try new games and activities with me, but within a matter of weeks I found it impossible to see Kaltoumi without hearing her laughter and being body slammed by one of her hugs,” said Carys. “She loves life and she wants to share that love and joy with others. It truly does take a village to bring about such amazing change.”
Now, Kaltoumi dreams of returning to school and finishing her primary education. She also wants to expand her family’s farm and help sell produce at the local market.
“She has the potential to be a world-changer because she has the determination to never give up,” said Dr. Parker.
Her biggest dream is to one day be able to marry and have a family of her own — a future that finally feels possible without the weight of a life-threatening tumor.
“It feels like a heaviness has been lifted from me,” she said with a smile.
Kaltoumi’s transformation shines through her beaming eyes and joyful personality, and she is now filled with hope and gratefulness for the future that she might have never seen without Mercy Ships.
Written by: Rose Talbot
Edited by: Karis Johnson
Photography by: Shawn Thompson and Saul Loubassa-Bighonda
Fifty-nine-year-old Aser Roger was born in this house. But, since losing his eyesight, the familiar route home was just a memory. He relied solely on his senses to bring him through the maze that he once knew as his neighborhood.
Blindness meant more than just giving up the independence to walk and enjoy once-cherished sights. For Aser Roger, it meant being unable to care for his loved ones.
This proud father of three daughters was once the primary provider for his family. One day he bent down to pick some crops, and a branch scratched the cornea of his left eye. He lost the vision in that eye, but continued farming for several more years until a cataract clouded the vision in his right eye. After that, he could no longer farm.
Aser Roger lived in a world of shadows and hopelessness for a year and a half. “Every morning when I wake up I pray to God to help me find a way out of this situation,” he said.
Days once spent working to put food on his family’s table were now spent drinking palm wine with friends and whiling away his hours. His younger sister and brother became his eyes, carefully guiding him where he needed to go.
After hearing about the Mercy Ships eye program, his brother brought him to the Africa Mercy for surgery, hopeful that the 20-minute operation was the promise of a new start in Aser’s life.
The procedure was quick. The next day was the moment of truth—his eye patch was removed, and he was able to see for the first time in over a year! The change was immediate and remarkable. Just a day before, he had only been able to see hazy light and darkness, but now his eyesight was an incredible 20/80—light years ahead of where he had been just 48 hours previously.
He couldn’t get home soon enough. “Once we arrived, my brother left me and said, ‘You can cross the road by yourself!’” said Aser Roger. His family shed tears of joy as they watched him walk independently across the busy street.
“You’re back to life! I thought you were lost, but my big brother is finally home!” his younger sister said, weeping with joy.
But the climactic moment Aser Roger had been waiting for finally came when he saw the loving face of his youngest daughter. He had not seen his seven-year-old little girl for over a year.
After several weeks of rest and healing, Mercy Ships doctors gave Aser Roger more good news—he could return to farming. Providing for his family was the second chance he’d prayed for.
“I was so happy that if I had wings, I feel like I would have just flown to the sky,” he rejoiced.
Written by Rose Talbot
Photography by Saul Loubassa-Bighonda
Edited by Karis Johnson and Nancy Predaina
Support patients like Acer Roger. Your gift is doubled until April 2!
Slowly losing her eyesight from cataracts felt like a lifelong prison sentence for the 65-year-old seamstress. The blindness stole her independence because she was forced to rely on family members to be her eyes. Even simple walks to the market, down streets she’d known her entire life, became almost impossible to navigate on her own. All she could see were clouded shadows and pinpricks of light.
The blindness also stole her livelihood and her life’s calling. She could no longer work as a seamstress and had to depend on her younger sister for help. But the worst part was losing her ability to travel around Cameroon and evangelize, which she’d always felt called to do.
Without money to pay for cataract surgery, Lydienne almost gave up hope. But one day, her pastor told her, “The ship is coming. You will have your sight restored.” And immediately Lydienne believed with all her heart that the hospital ship would change her life.
She arrived at the Mercy Ships eye screenings, nervous and full of hope. On the scheduled day for her long-desired cataract surgery, she arrived at the ship bright and early in the morning. “God has His eye on me,” she said confidently before being led up the gangway.
Removing her cataracts was a quick surgical procedure. The very next day, Lydienne’s eye patch was removed. It was the moment of truth – had the surgery been successful? And the answer was YES! After a decade of darkness, she could see again!
“I went home shouting in excitement. I could see everything! Even seeing buildings again makes me so happy,” she said.
At first, her relatives couldn’t believe it, and they jokingly tested her to make sure she really could see. “They’ll ask me what they’re holding or ask me to read things to them. When I do, they all applaud. I don’t mind being treated like a child in this way – I can see it’s all in joy,” smiled Lydienne.
Now, with her eyesight and independence restored, Lydienne can resume her work as a seamstress. And she’s even more excited about being able to once again travel around the city, speaking with people about God’s love and sharing her own story with them.
“I believe my sight has been anointed. Even if my clothes are fading and getting old, I see them in the brightest colors now!”
Written by Rose Talbot
Photography by Saul Loubassa Bighonda
Edited by Karis Johnson and Nancy Predaina